Published September 29, 2013
1. I wrote in my Sunday Vindicator story that it's too soon to call Saturday's win a season-defining victory, but you can't overstate how much it helps this program.
Had YSU played the second half like it played the first, my inbox and Twitter account would have been inundated with "Fire Wolford" messages. But unlike last year, when the Penguins folded when faced with adversity, the seniors took control of the locker room at halftime and refused to let the team collapse.
"I really think the biggest thing was we focused on sticking together," QB Kurt Hess said. "We got very vocal about it. A lot of seniors talked about how last time played here [in Carbondale] we were down and came back to win. We said whatever happens, we're going to stick together."
2. I said before the game that I had no idea what was going to happen, but my guess was the game would be close, and it was.
I also felt these two teams were probably going to battle for the fourth playoff spot among Missouri Valley teams, which is why Saturday's game was so important.
That win sets the Penguins up really nicely over the next month, with games against (arguably) the league's four worst teams: Indiana State, Illinois State, Western Illinois and South Dakota. If YSU can finish that stretch with a 5-0 conference record, it takes a lot of pressure off the final three games against UNI, North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
3. Southern Illinois' season, meanwhile, might be over.
The Salukis have already lost two close games against good teams (Illinois and nationally-ranked Eastern Illinois) and now have to play the MVFC's three best teams (SDSU, UNI and NDSU) over the next three weeks, with the first two on the road. Had they beaten YSU, they probably could have gone 1-2 over that stretch and still made the playoffs. Now they'll probably need to win two. I don't see that happening.
Even worse: Junior tight end MyCole Pruitt, who might be SIU's best player, reportedly tore his ACL on the play when he got stripped by YSU LB Teven Williams. And at Week 5, it's too late for him to redshirt this season.
4. The biggest difference, at least defensively, between the first half and the second half was YSU finally got some pressure on SIU QB Kory Faulkner, who looked like Aaron Rodgers in the first half and one of the Browns' quarterbacks in the second half. (Not Brian Hoyer, though. At least not yet.)
Faulkner was only sacked once, but as YSU's radio analyst Chris Sammarone said, "You don't have to sack him. You just have to hit him. Make him feel you." Faulkner had ALL DAY to throw in the first half and I thought Sammarone was going to put his fist through the press box window as the Penguins kept lining up with a base four-man front that couldn't get off blocks. Defensive coordinator Joe Tresey didn't call any blitzes or stunts or even give Faulkner different looks to confuse him.
"I'd rather see us blitz 11 guys and get pressure and hit the quarterback and give up an 80-yard bomb than allow him to sit back there untouched and pick us apart," Sammarone said. "It's like a 7-on-7 drill."
Tresey stayed with the same basic defense in the second half, but YSU just played better than it did in the first 30 minutes. And the Salukis played worse.
5. Not to take anything away from YSU, but Southern Illinois flat out didn't make the plays it needed to make down the stretch.
The Salukis were penalized five times for 45 yards (YSU had just one for 14) and had a chance at two interceptions in the Penguins' last drive. Add in a missed extra point and you've got a recipe for a one-point loss.
6. YSU's special teams were pretty good — it no longer seems weird to say that — with Nick Liste recording four touchbacks while putting two of his four punts inside the 20, Joey Cejudo making all four extra points (including what turned out to be the game-winning point with 1:50 left) and the coverage units holding SIU in check.
The Penguins' return game isn't explosive but it's fine. Frankly, if YSU can just play even on special teams, that's a huge upgrade from the previous three years. The Penguins are doing better than that.
7. It's been pretty well-established that YSU's conference travel is a pain in the neck and here's another example: The
Penguins stayed in a hotel in Mt. Vernon, Illinois on Friday night, then bused an hour to Carbondale because Mt. Vernon was the closest city that could accomodate the 100-plus players, coaches, staff and (yes) reporters.
The plane ride back wasn't bad — there's an airport about 20 minutes from the stadium — but because it was a night game, the team got back to the Youngstown airport around 2:30 a.m.
8. I got this email earlier in the week:
"I, like many fans get frustrated when YSU is on offense and the quarterback and others have to look at the bench several times, while running the play clock down, for directions from the sidelines. I wonder the purpose, do the change the play call every play, they never sent up and run a play without doing this? In a tight game they may need this wasted time later. Do you have a guess on the amount of wasted time by this?
Same on PAT where half the team goes to right corner of goal line and then comes back for the PAT kick. Why? Wolford incurs a lot of wasted time during the game."
Here's the reason: YSU offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery calls all the plays from the booth, which gives him a good view of the defensive alignment. So when YSU's players look to the sideline, he'll either stay with his play call (yelling "Run it!" into the headset) or change the play. Sometimes QB Kurt Hess has a run/pass option, based on what the defense does but Montgomery typically runs the show.
Because Wolford likes to drain the clock and control time of possession -- as opposed to, say, Oregon, which likes to run a ton of plays in a short amount of time -- the wasted time isn't a big issue, unless, of course, YSU is down by a couple touchdowns.
As for the PAT alignment, Wolford used it to run a (successful) two-point conversion against Morehead State, so maybe he's on to something. Then again, YSU could probably run a successful two-point conversion in any alignment against Morehead State.
Neither of those things seems like a big deal to me, but maybe other readers feel differently.
9. One of the best things about flying Southwest is the airline has a sense of humor.
Just before takeoff, a flight attendant asked where YSU DT Octavius Brown was. When he looked up, she said, "Bad news. You left your bag back at the hotel and they opened it up and found your Hello Kitty pajamas. The good news is they're going to mail it back to you."
They also pleasantly told us that if they don't want to follow the safety procedures, we were welcome to stay behind in Illinois. And that we'd be taking off as soon as they got gas and directions.